Instead of wondering if Iowa State's run defense would hold up against Iowa or how effective Hawkeye quarterback Ricky Stanzi will be in the first big start of his collegiate career, area cable subscribers were distracted by a much more basic, pressing concern this week:
Will I even get to see the big game?
I wish I had a dime for every time someone called or e-mailed our office and sheepishly asked what should be a ridiculous question. I heard from baffled Hawkeye and Cyclone fans alike in Fort Dodge, Manson, Humboldt, Algona - you name it. The confusion provided a bizarre common ground in a land of divided allegiance.
The odds appeared remote before Thursday. Mediacom, which spent an entire year negotiating with the Big Ten Network, wouldn't even guarantee a temporary solution, let alone anything permanent. As I passed the grim news along to cable subscribers, reactions ranged from irrational anger to utter disbelief.
Well folks, put down your torches and pitchforks. Mediacom announced yesterday afternoon that it will broadcast the game on its 'Connections' channel (22), then officially add the Big Ten Network to its basic cable lineup by Oct. 15.
Now that wasn't so hard, was it?
''In all honesty, our plan wasn't a question of 'if' but 'when,''' Mediacom communications director Phyllis Peters said. ''We know this is a huge game this weekend for the entire state, and we didn't want our customers to miss it. We never did.
''We had to work through the business parts of the equation, and we did so as rapidly - yet diligently - as we could. This is a good day - a win-win for everyone.''
Why did it take so long? What were the tripping points? After the Aug. 28 Mediacom-BTN partnership was officially announced, why were towns north and west of Webster City still on the outside looking in?
I suppose the answers to those questions are irrelevant now, even if the company does owe its subscribers a rhetoric-free explanation. I heard it over and over again this week: spare me the excuses and rationalizations - just add the channel already.
And at the eleventh hour, they finally did.
So now that everyone else has rejoined the 21st Century with the Dish Network and DirecTV loyalists, let's get back to the task at hand.
I stumbled upon an interesting statistic the other day. In the last 10 meetings between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones, Iowa has covered only once. Like clockwork, though, Vegas inflated the line again, installing head coach Kirk Ferentz's squad as a 13-point favorite.
So if my ''Hawks will win but not cover'' prediction sounds familiar or even stale, please forgive me. Like last year - Iowa State was a 17-point underdog and won 15-13 - or the year before that (Iowa was a 13-point favorite and won by 10), or the year before that (Hawks by 8, lost by 20), or the year before that (Hawks by 24, won by 7), I'm going to ignore this ridiculous line for a rivalry game and anticipate another barn-burner.
Let's face it: as is the case with most mid-September Iowa-Iowa State showdowns, we know very little about either ballclub at this point. There are reasons for optimism in both camps, and there are also warning signs lurking in the distance. By tomorrow afternoon, one team will be hanging their hat on the former, while the other soberly tackles the latter.
There are so many newcomers playing pivotal roles in this one - Stanzi, Arnaud, Mahoney, Greene and Scales (for all intents and purposes) to name a few - that it clouds the crystal ball even more. Iowa State hasn't prevailed at Kinnick since 2002, so that will be my tie-breaker. But the Hawks by more than a baker's dozen? I just don't see it.
At least Mediacom customers will, so to speak.
Iowa 24, Iowa State 16
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org